Searching for a job is hard work, no doubt, and it often isn’t as simple as sending out a general resume and strolling through an interview process. Instead, it’s often a multi-phase process that takes time and effort: You update your resume. You craft a letter of application. You select samples from past projects that best showcase relevant skills. You then go to the interview and show your stuff. That’s a lot of work–even for people who are practiced in the job search process.
Consider, though, that developing resumes, letters, and portfolios and showing up for interviews are not necessarily all you need to do to land your next job. Although these things can show a potential employer that you’re a “can do” person–as in, you have the skills and experience to do the job–they’re not enough to show that you’re a “will do” person–that you will do what ever it takes to get the job done. While many employers do look to match an applicant’s skills, experience, and knowledge to the job, they are really looking for one basic thing: Can–and will–this person do the job that they need done? With that in mind, your goal is not only to showcase your relevant skills, knowledge, and experience, but also to convey that you’re the “will do” person they need. And often, especially in cases where your skills and experience don’t exactly match what they’re looking for, demonstrating that you’re a will-do person may be the difference between landing the job, or not.
So, how do you convey that you’re the will-do person they need? In Part One of this two-part series, you’ll find 10 strategies to apply during the pre-interview, interview, and post-interview phases of your job search.
Before the Interview
Strategy #1: Be proactive in developing your skills
As you’re starting your job search, take time to inventory your skills, interests, and experience, and consider what your goals are for your next job. Then determine what skills you need to acquire (or improve) in order to get from where you are to where you want to be.
With that in mind, be proactive in developing skills that you’re lacking. You’re not limited to learning new skills by enrolling in formal classes–although that would be a good option. Instead, there’s a wide variety of online classes, Web sites, and books that can be effective for helping you quickly learn the basics of a program, explore a new genre of tools, advance basic skills you already have, and so on. Online learning opportunities abound and offer both instructor- and student-led courses. Many Web sites also offer introductory information, FAQs, and resources for more information (a product’s company Web site would be a good place to start). And books. Don’t forget about books as excellent self-study aids for learning or improving skills. Many commercial computer books, for example, come with full versions of software, demo software, examples, code, and resources on accompanying CDs.
Being proactive in developing your skills offers a few benefits. At a minimum, you’ll have those skills on your resume, which can help give you an edge over candidates who don’t. But, perhaps more importantly, being proactive in building skills you’re lacking can demonstrate to a potential employer that you can identify problems, research solutions, make decisions, and then see the solution through.
Strategy #2: Review your previous projects and experience
Take some time to reflect on projects and–if possible–review project planning documents, progress reports, and project wrap-up reports to help refresh the details in your mind. For each project, ask yourself questions such as these:
- What were the initial needs? How was the project defined?
- What, specifically, was your role, what tasks did you complete, and how did your role relate to others on the team?
- What problems did you encounter, how did you identify those problems, and how did you solve them?
- Why were the layout and design developed as they were? What’s good about them, and what could be improved, in retrospect?
- What tools did you use? How did you learn them? What tool obstacles did you encounter, and how did you solve them?
- What was the makeup of the teams you worked on? Size? Generalists? Specialists? Relation to (and with) SMEs (Subject Matter Experts)?
- What was the publications process used? How was information gathered, content developed, and documents reviewed?
- What measurable successes did you have (i.e., met deadlines, came in under budget [by how much?], reduced customer service calls [by how much?], received “ThusAndSo” feedback from customers or bosses on the documents, and so on).
Now, practice saying your answers aloud. Really. Have your mentor, a teacher, or another technical writer ask you questions. Have your spouse ask you questions. Stand in front of a mirror and talk to yourself. Or talk to your dog. During the interview, you’ll want to focus on listening to their needs and replying accordingly–and not struggling with remembering all the details of past projects. By thinking about the details, reviewing project planning, progress, and wrap-up reports whenever possible, and then practicing talking about those details, you can have the details in your forethought, ready to discuss during an interview.
Strategy #3: Do your homework
Before you go to an interview, take time to find out as much as you can about the industry, company, products, documents, and people:
- Find out who you’re interviewing with–and their titles and roles in the team you’d be joining. Often, you can find this out when you’re called for an interview.
- Find out what products the company develops. Who uses their products? What documentation or other information products do they develop? Again here, you can often find these things out when you’re called for an interview. Or, if not, you may be able to find such information on the company’s Web site. Visit it. Study it. Take notes.
- Research the industry, products, and document types, especially if they’re different from what you’re experienced in.
Doing research before the interview provides you with information you can draw on throughout the interview process. For example, such information can help you formulate questions, figure out what questions they might be asking, and help you select appropriate portfolio pieces. It can also help you determine what you need to do to prepare for the interview, give you an idea of what to expect during the interview, and help provide fodder for discussion during the interview. Chances are, potential employers will notice that you’ve done your homework–evidenced by the questions, discussions, information, and portfolio pieces you provide during the interview. They’ll certainly notice if you haven’t done your homework.
During the Interview
Strategy #4: Listen, ask, and then tell
In an interview–especially when nerves strike–you may be tempted to provide as much information about your skills and experience as you can. While, yes, you do need to provide such details, you can maximize them if you provide them in the context of what the company needs. That is, rather than detailing your skills, experience, and projects, discuss them in the context of how they’ve prepared you to take on (and successfully complete) the tasks the company needs done.
If you did your homework about the company beforehand (you did apply Strategy #3, right?!), you’ll have some context to work with even before you go into the interview. Also, the interview process often results in an exchange of information, where you provide details based on what the interviewer tells you about the company, product, documentation, and so on. But, you may need to dig to find out what they really need: How did the projects come about? What needs do the products–and documents–fill? What problems are they having in developing the product or documents? Ask questions, and then choose your details based on the answers.
Strategy #5: Be specific
Don’t just say “familiar with,” “worked on ThusAndSo project,” “worked with the SMEs,” or other vague statements; these phrases are flimsy support for your assertions of competence. Instead, provide specific details about the projects you worked on: The needs, your role, problems encountered, successes, and other issues relevant to the position you seek:
- Not “I’m familiar with RoboHelp,” but “I used RoboHelp to develop 37 topics in this help system….”
- Not “I worked on ThusAndSo project,” but “I planned the content based on interviews with the SMEs, developed 63 diagrams using Illustrator, completed the entire 300-page draft in nine weeks, led three document reviews, and….”
- Not “I worked with SMEs,” but “I worked with a team of 12 SMEs, with ThusAndSo areas of expertise. At the time I started, the department had no formal document review process. I devised ThusAndSo review process, which was successful, based on these measures of success….”
Ahhhh, that’s it…draw on the details you reviewed prior to the interview, and disclose them according to the company’s needs.
Strategy #6: Overcome deficiencies–whether real or perceived
“No, buts…” can work in your favor. Maybe you don’t yet have experience with RoboHelp–the tool they use; however, perhaps you are familiar with issues of developing online help; perhaps you are familiar with the help development tool genre and its general capabilities; or perhaps you do know how to use ForeHelp and can apply those skills to a new tool. You don’t have a tool deficiency, in this example; you have existing skills that could be easily transferred to their environment. Use those “no, buts” to your advantage, draw on what you do know, and bridge that knowledge to their needs.
Strategy #7: Be proactive
Ask to meet others on the team. Ask to see their products. Ask to see their documentation and other information products (and ask questions about the samples you see). Ask what the next step is in the interviewing process. Although they may not be able to accommodate all of your requests, asking questions is not only a good way to keep the information exchange going, but is also a good way to show you’re a go-getter interested in exploring resources and avenues available.
Strategy #8: Emphasize your initiative
That is, mention instances where you identified and solved problems–before they became crises. Mention those self-study opportunities you’ve taken on, as well as the demonstrable results you have. Mention projects you’ve completed that were in addition to your assigned job duties. Detailing such initiatives indicates that you’ll do more than just show up for work; you’ll be the will-do person they need.
After the Interview
Strategy #9: Follow through on promises
As simple as it may seem, follow-through is perhaps one of the best indicators of being a “will-do” person. If you promised to send along another project sample, do it. If you promised to provide hardcopy samples–in addition to the CD you left with the interviewer–do it. If you were asked to call and schedule an interview with another manager, do it (or take the time to call and decline another interview, if you’ve decided against the position based on the first interview). You might think of these requests as being your first assignments, and not following through on them may indicate to a potential employer that you won’t follow through on other tasks, should they hire you.
Strategy #10: Send a thank you letter
Sending a follow-up thank you letter doesn’t just say “thank you”; it can be a tool for providing additional information, expressing your interest in the job, and keeping the lines of communication open. And, taking the time to send a well-written, polished letter may be just be the key that sets you apart from other applicants by showing follow-through and attention to detail.
While many employers do look to match an applicant’s skills, experience, and knowledge to the job, they are really looking for one basic thing: Can–and will–this person do the job that they need done? With that in mind, your goal is not only to showcase your relevant skills, knowledge, and experience, but to also convey that you’re the will-do person they need. The bottom line in conveying that you’re the will-do person they need is simple: Go the extra mile–from the very start.